2015 Blind Spot Series: “My Life to Live”

BLIND SPOT

“My Life to Live”

“Vivre sa vie” or “My Life to Live” is a French New Wave film that also feels distinctly different from some of the more prominent movies of the highly influential movement. Director Jean-Luc Godard released the film in 1962, two years after his groundbreaking debut “Breathless”. Viewers will undoubtedly see similarities between the two films, but “My Life to Live” differentiates itself both in structure, subject, aesthetic, and style. “My Life to Live” undoubtedly attempts to buck common, overused movie trends – something French New Wave films sought to do. At the same time Godard makes “My Life to Live” distinctly its own.

The captivating Anna Karina plays the lead character Nana and she was Godard’s wife at the time. Interstingly, Godard first noticed Karina in a series of Palmolive ads. Godard was preparing for “Breathless”, his feature film debut, and offered Karina a small role in the picture. She turned him down but his persistence led her to be in his next three films and his wife for four years. Their relationship is evident in the movie. Godard’s camera seems enamored by Karina’s face, by her expressions, by her countenance. His concentration on her eyes, the features of her face, the language of her body. Unquestionably much of Godard’s story is told through the lens of his star.

LIFE1

The film is broken down into twelve chapters each with basic synoptic captions. The first introduces us to Nana who is at a cafe with her husband Paul. We learn that she has just left him and their infant daughter to pursue acting. The revealing scene paints a complex picture of Nana. Adding to that complexity is the intriguing camera work by Godard and long-time cinematographer Raul Coutard. The focus is mostly on the back of the two character’s heads. The camera shifts back and forth while strategically giving us glimpses of their faces often through a mirror’s reflection. It leaves us curious about Nana and unsure how we are to feel about her.

Nana’s acting dream seems unrealistic. We see her working in record shop but apparently she can’t make ends meet. She asks different people to borrow money and one particular scene shows her being forcibly removed from her apartment. Out of a sense of desperation she turns to prostitution. But is it desperation or simple necessity? Nana is never easy to read. She approaches life with an open book mentality yet I always found a cloud of mystery around her. At times she seems impervious to possible consequences of her actions. Other times there is a playful life-loving personality that bubbles out. At other times she feels overwhelmed by her circumstances. Mainly she wants to be able to define her life and she wants to be the one to live it.

Life 2

The film’s look into prostitution of the day adds another level of intrigue. We see Nana grow more and more comfortable and content, but at the same time we the audience begin noticing cracks and concerns within her environment. Godard goes to great lengths to educate us on the mentalities, practices, and laws that made up the Paris prostitution scene of early 1960s. It gives us a better perspective even if it sometimes feels a bit dry and procedural. The coolest thing is how the approach to this element draws from the cinéma vérité documentarian style.

“My Life to Life” is a captivating film slowed down only by the occasional lulls – moments when Godard’s experimentation feels like experimentation instead of storytelling or progression. Still, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the portrait Godard paints. And his cinematic model Anna Karina is a mesmerizing expression of energy, wonder, and reality. Surround her with intoxicating style, layers of cultural references, and a grounded story and you have “My Life to Live” – a film that is uniquely its own nestled within the French New Wave.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars

THE END

REVIEW: “Bande à part” (“Band of Outsiders”)

OUTSIDERSposter

“Band of Outsiders” was Jean-Luc Godard’s seventh film and a unique entry into the French New Wave movement. Viewed by some as Godard’s most accessible movie, “Band of Outsiders” is a playful, saucy romp which has influenced a variety of filmmakers through the decades that have followed. While the film may be considered a bit lighter than some of Godard’s other work, many of the director’s signature touches can be clearly seen.

Friends Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) recruit the reluctant Odile (Anna Karina) to help them pull off a heist. Odile lives in a villa with her Aunt Victoria and a mysterious wealthy man named Stoltz. One day she tells Franz of a large stash of money kept inside the villa. Franz and Arthur devise a plan to steal the money and Odile serves as their insider. But it grows more and more obvious that she doesn’t want to go through with it. She’s not a criminal. She’s actually sad, lonely, and looking for some validation to her life. That’s the only reason she connects with Franz and Arthur.

OUTSIDERS

Things are made more interesting by the fact that both men are smitten with Odile (at least to some degree). Franz is low-key and clearly in love with her. Arthur is a rude, rebellious, hellion so naturally Odile falls for him. Godard doesn’t give us the standard tensions or follow the same path as most movies featuring this kind of love triangle. It doesn’t become the focal point of the story. It’s simply a component of their relationships that slightly persuades how things turn out.

While the heist is the ultimate goal, the film is about these three characters. Godard treats them as…well…a band of outsiders. They each seem to be living in their own make-believe worlds. They seem to treat life as if it were a movie. We even get moments where Franz and Arthur act out scenes from gangster films. On one hand the trio shows a fresh and energetic approach to living that we see in their frolicking around Paris. On the other hand there is the naive indifference they have to reality and consequences. Only Odile seems to struggle with this.

While the characters and their relationships are the central focus, there is the heist angle which is also unique and unconventional. At times the film feels like a prototypical American crime drama that has been infused with French New Wave irreverence and style. The story sets its aim on a pretty familiar target, but Godard’s auteur’s approach gives us more than the normal heist movie tropes. Our trio are the most inadequate and unprepared people to be trying such a score. We see it in their lackluster planning and in the disastrous end results.

OUTSIDERS2

As with most of Jean-Luc Godard’s movies, there are certain moments that make the film unquestionably his. There is a great cafe sequence featuring a fun and crafty ‘moment of silence’ and the famous “Madison Dance” which inspired Quentin Tarantino’s dance sequence in “Pulp Fiction”. There is the equally famous ‘record-breaking’ race through the Louvre museum – a chipper and playful moment just before things take a darker and more realistic turn. And of course there are numerous artistic references to poetry, music, and film.

I could mention several other things that make “Band of Outsiders” a good film. I could mention the wonderful performances led by the magnetic Anna Karina. She was Godard’s wife at the time and his camera loves her. I could mention the film’s smart and effective blend of excitement and pathos. But ultimately it comes down to a fine filmmaker, good material, talented performers, and that spirited French New Wave perspective. For me that’s a perfect recipe for a great movie.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS